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World Cup

World Cup could be last chance for Henrik Lundqvist

Team Sweden goalie potentially looking at final opportunity to validate legacy

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

GOTHENBURG, Sweden -- Ten years and counting.

That's a long time staring up at the best above you, a long time of falling short of your goals and dreams. But when you're New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist and you're one of the best in the world at your position, you can justify a decade of missed opportunities by saying what he said after Team Sweden's first World Cup of Hockey 2016 training camp practice Monday at Scandinavium.

"You will always remember not winning the [Stanley] Cup or losing the Olympic final, but as long as you feel like you did all you could in preparation, physically and technically, everything, then it's hard to have any regret," Lundqvist said. "That's what I feel. …It was not enough."

It won't be enough if Lundqvist's potential Hockey Hall of Fame career ends with the one team achievement he's earned since arriving in the NHL 11 years ago: A gold medal at the 2006 Torino Olympics.

Lundqvist knows it. He might not come right out and say it, but he knows it. How could he not?

He knows the euphoria of winning on the big stage and the despair of getting there and losing, as he did twice in 2014, with Sweden at the Sochi Olympics and with the Rangers in the Stanley Cup Final. He knows there is more to a legacy than just being one of the best at his position in his era. He knows he can't be compared to the greats of all time if he doesn't have the hardware to back it up.

Video: NYR@PIT, Gm5: Lundqvist stops Daley, Crosby

All of that brings us to the World Cup, potentially Lundqvist's last chance to wear the sweater for the Swedish national team and, dare we say it, possibly his last great chance to win something of significance in his playing career.

Lundqvist wouldn't be naive enough to engage in a public debate on that last part, but he's an intuitive guy so he gets it when it comes to his situation.

For starters, he's 34 years old (he'll be 35 when the Stanley Cup Playoffs start), and the window on his tremendous career is more than halfway closed. He's on the back nine. Age and games played (Lundqvist is at 801 in the NHL counting regular season and playoffs) don't discriminate.

From an international standpoint, there's no guarantee NHL players will participate in the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, or that Lundqvist will still be at the top of his game and healthy if they do. He hasn't played in an IIHF World Championship since 2008.

So the World Cup is it. At least, that's how he has to think.

From an NHL perspective, it doesn't help Lundqvist that though still a contender to reach the playoffs for the seventh straight season, the Rangers have issues that, at least at the start of the season, take them out of the conversation of legitimate Stanley Cup contenders.

It's hard to accurately predict these things, but the Rangers are trending down as Lundqvist gets older. Their postseason run last season lasted five games, losing in the Eastern Conference First Round to the Pittsburgh Penguins, leading to the longest summer Lundqvist can remember.

"It was tough. The ending was tough," Lundqvist said. "It was weird. I was home in Sweden in late May and I've never been here that early ever in 11 years."

Lundqvist's summer still was fulfilling, what with the amount of time he had to relax, spend with family, and gird up his training to be ready for the World Cup. But shaking the feeling of another opportunity lost has been hard for him.

He's more in tune with the importance of these opportunities now. That's part of the reason why this World Cup means a lot to him.

"The last four or five years my mentality has been, you've got to grab the opportunity you have and make the most of it all the time," he said.

There's more.

"I also appreciate what I have a little bit more too," Lundqvist said later in the interview. "When you're young you just go, go, go. But you get older and I think you appreciate the opportunity to play for the Rangers, in the League, to represent your country."

And to win.

The Rangers potentially could struggle to get back into the Stanley Cup Final during the timeframe Lundqvist has left as an elite NHL goalie. But Team Sweden has a real chance to win the World Cup.

Team Sweden has a talented, balanced and experienced roster backed by a goalie who still can be called elite, at least for now. Team Sweden might pose the biggest challenge to big, bad Team Canada.

"We have a really good team here," Lundqvist said. "We have an opportunity to win."

Lundqvist hasn't had too many of these opportunities since he reached the top of the mountain 10 years ago. He hasn't made good on the ones he has had. He's been elite, but he hasn't gotten enough out of his career yet.

The World Cup is a chance for Lundqvist to get more. It's a real chance, a great chance. It also might be his last real great chance.

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